UoA 26: Chemical Engineering

This submission covers the Departments of Chemical Engineering and of Biochemical Engineering. It is structured in two parts, reflecting their differing focus and missions.

DEPARTMENT OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERING

The 2001 strategic aims were largely met or exceeded. The department contributed to fundamental engineering science and developed interdisciplinary academic links within UCL CoMPLEX (Centre for Mathematics and Physics in the Life sciences and EXperimental biology), the UCL MCC (Materials Chemistry Centre), the LCN (London Centre for Nanotechnology) and beyond. It developed industrial collaborations with oil and gas, petrochemical, fine chemical, nuclear, pharmaceutical and food industries enabling change of current practice, which were recognised externally by the award of prizes and patents.

Computer Aided Process Engineering (CAPE) group continued to strengthen involvement in the Centre for Process Systems Engineering (CPSE), a joint venture with Imperial College London, increased work with Biochemical Engineering colleagues on bioprocess modelling and began new work on Systems Biology applied to medicine.

Chemical and Catalytic Reaction Engineering (CCRE) group focussed on engineering of chemical transformations in an environmentally sustainable manner and use of innovative reactor technology for chemicals production. Research on environmental applications shifted from end-of pipe treatment towards a preventative approach with a concomitant move towards fine chemical applications.

Multi-Phase Systems (MPS) group focussed on analysis, design and modelling of particle formation and flows in multiphase systems (gas-liquid-solid) within industrial processes including increased use of molecular modelling and computational fluid dynamics, and innovating analytical instruments and tools.

Centre for CO2 Technology (CCO2T) research spanned carbon abatement technologies (CAT) and carbon capture and storage (CCS) for CO2 reduction, removal and sequestration.

DEPARTMENT OF BIOCHEMICAL ENGINEERING

In 2001 the department was completing its decade as an Interdisciplinary Research Centre and we noted the “transition from a rolling grant to other research council awards requires a different approach”. This has occurred by two routes, first via a pair of industry co-funded EPSRC programmes. Research on biopharmaceutical macromolecule processing has been funded by the Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (IMRC) scheme. We have taken our concepts of micro biochemical engineering prediction of large scale operations and developed them to pioneer the approach for as yet unstudied operations and macromolecules. A parallel programme on small molecules synthesized using biocatalysis integrated with chemistry and engineering (BiCE) has pioneered automation of micro biochemical engineering to explore parallel enhancement of each aspect in creating better processes for novel, more selective medicines.

In 2001 we had “begun to extend bioprocess studies to tissue engineering” and the broader field now termed regenerative medicine, utilising human cells for therapy, is becoming a third major area of bioprocess research. With the molecular pharmaceutical programmes this will help bring through treatments for previously intractable diseases faster and at reduced cost. The sector represents a future knowledge-centred UK industry.

Our objectives for the next 5 years grow out of the above progress. Common unifying themes of fundamental research are emerging which connect studies on processing of the above three categories of advanced medicines. They focus on the influence of the bioprocessing environment on increasingly complex and delicate biological materials where each poses fresh challenges. New micro biochemical engineering methods, some automated, will be used to provide data for bioprocess design with these novel materials. By direct linkage to process modelling it will become possible to more rapidly iterate between experiments and bioprocess analysis. Progress will be enhanced in some cases by microfluidic methods which potentially allow more variables to be explored, faster and with less material consumed. These radical approaches are leading to greater speed to design and affordability of the resulting medicines. They are being addressed with company and clinical partners and as individual staff publication commentaries and esteem indicators note we are already achieving significant progress.

Though therapies using human cells are still at an early stage, companies and basic science groups show strong interest in our research because achieving consistency in bioprocessing is particularly demanding for both research and development with living materials. The field has been assigned high priority by government because it addresses particularly the intractable degenerative diseases of old age at a time when this group is growing.

Even in advanced pharmaceuticals the trend towards manufacture in lower cost countries is beginning. Our achievements in underpinning rapid progression of leading-edge bioscience towards outcomes will help the UK sustain a strong position, wherever manufacture occurs.

The Head of Department, Mike Hoare, is also Director of the multidisciplinary Advanced Centre for Biochemical Engineering. His deputy, Nigel Titchener-Hooker, is Director of the seven department IMRC. The BiCE programme is led by Gary Lye and Human Cell Bioprocessing by Chris Mason. Titchener-Hooker coordinates Engineering Doctorate (EngD) activities and their linkage to research with Mason responsible for developing them for human cells.  Research vision is developed with the help of an Advisory Board chaired by Dr Buckland of Merck, a member of the US National Academy of Engineering. The Board has 7 academic members (3 FRS, 2 FREng) and 15 industrial members.

All staff are research active. With complex small molecule medicines produced using bioconversion, Paul Dalby and Frank Baganz have successfully applied genetic enhancement of enzymes and cell biocatalysts to increase specific capabilities under industrial conditions, Baganz, Lye and Martina Micheletti have demonstrated for the first time micro biochemical engineering evaluation of bioconversion processes. For macromolecule processing Baganz and Eli Keshavarz-Moore address cell culture and fermentation research. Daniel Bracewell, Dalby, Hoare, Keshavarz-Moore and Lye have succeeded in applying micro biochemical engineering prediction of larger scale processes in complex environments of protein downstream processing while Titchener-Hooker and Yuhong Zhou establish novel bioprocess modelling. Suzanne Farid and Titchener-Hooker have pioneered decisional tools addressing interfaces between bioprocessing and business issues. In regenerative medicine bioprocessing Hoare, Lye, Mason and Farlan Veraitch examine human cell expansion and have begun to demonstrate that a distinct version of micro biochemical engineering can divert minimal precious human cells for process definition, and they pioneer approaches geared to producing many units of material. Authorship of research papers reflects strong interaction of staff across the three fields.

Download full text of the RA5a statement for Chemical Engineering (pdf 156Kb)

Staff names below link to submitted publications:

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